From the Headlines- July 5 – 8

Decision delayed: The Michigan Public Service Commission voted Thursday to re-open the record for additional evidence in the case that will decide whether Enbridge gets a permit to build an underground tunnel beneath the Straits of Mackinac to house part of its Line 5 oil and gas pipeline. During the meeting, MPSC Chairman Dan Scripps said the Commission aims to secure a “full and complete record on a number of issues, including specifically tunnel engineering and safety, and the safety of the current dual pipelines,” adding, “We want to make sure that we get it right.” In a statement, Margrethe Kearney, senior attorney at the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said that allowing the tunnel would exacerbate climate change. “The proposed tunnel is an unnecessary and dangerous investment in new fossil fuel infrastructure,” she said. “The Commission’s request for additional information makes clear that Enbridge has failed to demonstrate that the tunnel could safely be constructed or operated.” (Detroit Documenters, ELPC Press release)

What now? Following the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to restrict the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to regulate carbon emissions, the agency is devising a new strategy to help the federal government meet its climate goals – increasing restrictions on other pollutants from coal-fired power plants, which would have a side-effect of reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Biden administration officials say state policies and the falling cost of renewable energy mean that the goal of eliminating fossil fuel emissions from the power sector by 2035 could still be achievable. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer said the Supreme Court ruling “won’t deter the work we’re doing in Michigan.” The state’s two largest investor-owned utilities, DTE and Consumers, are already reducing fossil fuel use, although they continue to rely on planet-warming gas. Yet, many fear the SCOTUS decision could open up regulators to other challenges. The court will hear another case in October that could grant states greater power over elections, including the ability to engage in extreme partisan gerrymandering and institute more restrictions on voting. Such a move could solidify minority rule in a country where the Senate and Electoral College already favor Republicans and jeopardize climate action. (NY Times, MLive, WaPo)

Flooding post-mortem: An historic rainstorm was the primary cause of last summer’s devastating floods in metro Detroit, according to an investigation. However, electrical problems at two east side pumping stations “likely exacerbated” the damage. Investigators used data and models to examine how the Great Lakes Water Authority (GLWA) system would have performed without the electrical issues and found that the pumping stations could have handled another 26% of the water – not enough to prevent widespread basement and roadway flooding. The report determined that the rain event was a 200 to a 1,000-year storm, depending on the area, although these numbers may not mean much as climate change brings increasing precipitation to the region. The GLWA board has recommended improving the system so it can handle a 100-year storm and having municipalities consider purchasing flood-prone properties. (Freep, Detroit News)

Basement blues: While utilities consider solutions to the metro area’s flooding problems, Detroiters wonder when they might get some help protecting their basements. So far, 2,242 residents have applied for the city’s Basement Backup Prevention Program, which offers each home $6,000 worth of assistance, paying for backwater valves, sump pumps and other flood prevention measures. Just four have had the equipment installed so far. The city has approved 441 applications in the Aviation Subdivision and Victoria Park neighborhoods but hasn’t reviewed applications from other areas yet. Eleven neighborhoods are covered by the program. Detroit Water and Sewerage Department spokesperson Bryan Peckinpaugh says the city hopes to expand the program in the future with federal funding. (BridgeDetroit)

Mystery dirt: Detroit has been ramping up its demolition of blighted properties in the last few years and city contractors are using soil from cemeteries to provide backfill for many of these sites. Research has found arsenic and other heavy metals in cemetery soil in Michigan, but Detroit’s Demolition Department isn’t testing dirt from these sites because it is considered a “residential source” and thus safe. “The ‘residential’ designation says nothing about where that material actually came from, or whether it’s safe,” said Michael Koscielniak, an assistant professor of geology and geography at Eastern Michigan University. Koscielniak says the city’s accelerated demolition schedule pushes contractors to acquire soil from wherever they can while the city is disinclined to investigate any problem that could slow down the program. A 2019 report from the Auditor General found that between 2014 and 2018 city contractors “did not provide proper documentation for landfill and backfill receipts” among other issues. (Outlier)

About time: The United State Department of Agriculture announced that Detroit will become home to its first office dedicated to supporting urban agriculture. USDA hubs in rural communities help farmers access federal emergency assistance, conservation programs and financing. Federal officials recently hosted a listening session with 50 farmers at Eastern Market to get feedback on where to put the office, who should run it and what kind of assistance growers are looking for. In 2020, a USDA program granted loans to just 37% of Black applicants, but accepted applications from 71% of white farmers. (BridgeDetroit, Politico)

20 humpback whales: Each week, 700 tons of illegally dumped material lands in Detroit, which the Freep informs us is “about the same weight as 20 humpback whales”. Doug Collins, superintendent of the city’s Department of Public Works, says this amount of refuse has been consistent over the last seven years, requiring the department to clean up appliances, yard waste, construction materials and about 1,000 tires a week from locations across the city. “(Illegal dumping) is definitely an environmental justice issue when we think about classism and racism,” said Laprisha Berry Daniels, executive director of Detroiters Working for Environmental Justice. “It has to do with disinvestment in neighborhoods in Detroit.” To cut down on dumping, Detroit allows for biweekly disposal of up to two yards of bulk items as part of its regular trash pickup. But in 2017 Mayor Mike Duggan said two-thirds of illegal dumping suspects came from the suburbs. A Detroit Police Department anti-dumping surveillance program appears to have cut down on the number of suburban offenders with a little more than half of recent blight violation tickets being issued to Detroiters. (Freep, Outlier)

Eat safe fish: Only about a half of people in the Great Lakes region are aware of fish consumption advisories, according to a study from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The advisories alert residents about which fish to avoid on account of pollution or how much is safe to eat. Women, people of color and younger residents were more likely to be unaware of advisories and eat more fish than was recommended. A program in Detroit, the Riverwalkers, uses volunteers to engage anglers about the dangers that may be posed by species like catfish, which tend to bioaccumulate pollutants. However, messaging has been a challenge in Detroit where catfish is culturally important to many Black fishers. Here experts have worked with residents to create guidelines on cooking and eating fish that look to reduce the consumption of fish that contain more chemicals, while also providing information on how best to prepare them to avoid contaminants. (Great Lakes Echo, Planet Detroit)

Burning corn: The Michigan Senate approved a bill that would give gas station owners credits on sales of E15 and E85 ethanol, a move supported by the agriculture industry. “Statewide availability of E15 across Michigan would drive demand for an additional 78 million bushels of corn annually, boosting incomes for our family farmers,” said Bob Thompson, president of the Michigan Farmers Union. But increasing ethanol sales could have a negative impact on air quality. Environmental advocates fear more ethanol could increase ozone pollution and also cause problems with agricultural runoff by putting more land into corn production, which often requires more water-polluting fertilizer than other crops. Previous analyses of ethanol found that ethanol use could also increase food prices and decrease gas mileage for vehicles. (MI Radio, Yale 360) 


Our reporting 

runs deep.

Get the latest local enviro news in your inbox with Planet Detroit.

Scroll to Top